In 1999, a young woman in North Carolina named Melissa Marvin made a decision to drive after drinking one early afternoon. The consequence? She killed four teenagers and critically wounded one. Melissa Marvin will spend the rest of her life in prison.
Her trial was covered on one of the cable channels and since I was working as a freelance book designer at the time, I could tune in each day.
I wasn't necessarily interested in the content of the trial but was captivated by watching Ms. Marvin who wept openly in court and when she wasn't keeping her head down, she was covering her face with her hands or long, dark hair.
I don't know if Melissa Marvin suffers from borderline personality disorder and, even though I hadn't yet received the diagnosis, I was amazed that this stranger and I shared a similar demonstrative experience of guilt, shame, and regret over our behaviors.
Once a month or so I get a phone call from a family member or ex-spouse who will insist that the person in their life with BPD actually enjoys hurting others and doesn't regret causing any problems.
While I can't speak for everyone with BPD, I know that in my own life I've often pushed away thoughts and emotions like guilt, shame, and regret because I had absolutely no way to express or intellectually process them in a way where I didn't feel even more guilt, shame, and regret. Did my actions sometimes look like I didn't care about others or was simply too self-absorbed? Absolutely.
Honestly, it wasn't until I began to get better that I could even start to understand and then take the brave step of accepting responsibility for many of my behaviors.
If you are someone who experiences a lot of regret, you might be interested in this TED presentation by author Kathryn Schulz. So often we are encouraged not to have any regret and are admonished by the very idea that we might have made a decision that hurt others or ourselves. Ms. Schulz makes a strong case for feeling regret without embracing self-hatred and causing additional injury by punishing ourselves.
It's well-worth watching.
What are you telling yourself today about the choices and behaviors you regret in your own life?